Books I’ve Read This Week: Queens and Empresses

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 30: Queens and Empresses: In recent weeks, I have been reading extensively about one of my favourite topics, the political and cultural influence of royal women. I will be delivering a lecture about Catherine the Great and the Hermitage later this month as part of a royal history lecture series on a Baltic Sea cruise and I have therefore been reading extensively about Catherine’s famous art collection. I am also working on a feature article about royal wedding dresses to be published in time for Princess Eugenie’s wedding this October, and so I have been reading more about royal fashions from the eighteenth century to the present day. I also recently read three more titles from the Palgrave Macmillan Queenship and Power series. Here are this week’s reviews:

#204 of 365 Royal Women and Dynastic Loyalty edited by Caroline Dunn and Elizabeth Carney

Genre: History

Format: E-Book, 207 pages

Acquired: Borrowed From Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: July 25, 2018

Review: A collection of articles about royal women and their contributions to royal dynasties from classical times to the 19th century. While there are familiar figures examined in this volume, such as Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James I’s queen, Anna of Denmark, most of the contributors examine comparatively overlooked figures. There are chapters concerning Empress Elizabeth Christine (the mother of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and the grandmother of Queen Marie Antoinette of France), and the little known royal women of the 17th century Ottoman Empire who served as stabilizing figures during an uncertain time for their ruling house. 

The authors draw conclusions that continue to be relevant to the history of monarchical government, women and power, and royal court culture. For example, in her chapter on Queenship and the Currency of Arts Patronage as Propaganda at the Early Stuart Court, Wendy Hitchmough observes that royal palaces continue to be sites of national identity and memory, as demonstrated by the recent Remembrance Day poppies installation at the Tower of London and the role of Kensington Palace as a site for mourning Diana, Princess of Wales.

Since the book is based on a series of conference papers, the chapters are short and sometimes end abruptly, especially the opening chapter about King’s Daughters, Sisters, and Wives: Fonts and Conduits of Power and Legitimacy by Waldemar Heckel. I hope that the contributors will expand their research into longer articles and books as the chapters in this volume examine important and often overlooked historical figures and their contributions to dynastic legitimacy.

#205 of 365 The Empress of Art: Catherine the Great and the Transformation of Russia by Susan Jaques

Genre: Biography/Art History

Acquired: Purchased from Amazon.com

Format: Paperback, 480 pages

Date Read: July 25, 2018

Review:The Empress of Art provides a good overview of Catherine the Great’s art patronage and the development of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Jaques writes in an engaging, accessible style, and places the acquisition of key art collections such as the Walpole paintings within the context of the wider events of Catherine the Great’s reign. The author has visited Saint Petersburg and demonstrates a familiarity with the historic buildings of the city, Catherine the Great’s influence on architecture, and her role in setting wider cultural trends.

In addition to detailing Catherine’s cultural activities, Jaques explains the ultimate fate of the paintings acquired by the Empress. While some of Catherine’s purchases remain on display at the Hermitage museum, her grandson Czar Nicholas I sold some of the pieces that he judged to be inferior while other acquisitions were destroyed by fire or sold to the National Gallery in Washington D.C. during the Soviet period. 

Unfortunately, there are some historical errors sprinkled throughout the book, especially toward the beginning and end. The errors concern names, dates, and, most often, the family relationships between royal personages. (For example, Maria Josepha was Maria Theresa’s daughter, not her daughter-in-law. A daughter of the last Byzantine Emperor did not marry a czar, as stated in the book. Instead, a niece of the last Byzantine Emperor married a Grand Duke of Muscovy, Ivan III. The title of czar was not in use until their grandson’s reign.) While these errors do not undermine Jaques’s overall argument that Catherine was a key cultural patron with a lasting legacy in a number of different spheres, they are distracting for the reader.

The Empress of Art is an engaging biography of Catherine the Great as a cultural patron that is especially useful for visitors to Saint Petersburg and the city’s Hermitage Museum. Includes illustrations of key paintings and architecture from Catherine’s reign.

#206 of 365 Queenship and Counsel in Early Modern Europe edited by Helen Matheson-PollockJoanne Paul and Catherine Fletcher 

Genre: History

Date Read: July 26, 2018

Format: E-Book, 291 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Review: An excellent collection of scholarly articles about how early modern queens exercised and received political counsel. The book includes fresh perspectives on Tudor and early Stuart era queens who are often reduced to one dimensional portrayals in the popular imagination.

For example, Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, closely associated with her nephew Holy Roman Emperor Charles V because of the circumstances of the breakdown of her marriage, in fact had a more complicated attitude toward English foreign policy and was not always perceived as placing Spain’s interests first. Henry VIII’s sister Mary, Queen of France, famous for marrying Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and incurring the King’s displeasure in fact remained closely interested in Anglo-French relations for the rest of her life, and attempted to maintain her own network of connections during her brief marriage to Louis XII. Mary, Queen of Scots paid careful attention to her household, avoiding appointing the wives of privy Councillors to attend her in a personal capacity in an attempt to separate her public and private spheres. Queen Elizabeth I made use of her classical education to affirm her authority over male Councillors.

In addition to chapters reassessing well known queens, there is analysis of little known queens consort and the manner in which they exerted political influence. The book’s focus on the early modern period allows for exploration of how royal women’s roles were passed through the generations. For example, there is a chapter about Bona Sforza, Queen of Poland followed by a chapter about her daughter, Catherine Jagiellon, Queen of Sweden, two queens consort who deserve to be more well known. The book comes together as a cohesive whole, with parallels drawn between the various queens discussed in individual sections and wider conclusions presented about the range of roles for a queen in the sixteenth century. Highly recommended for scholars and general readers interested in early modern queenship.

#207 of 365 Queens Matter in Early Modern Studies edited by Anna Riehl Bertolet

Genre: History

Format: E-Book, 399 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Dates Read: July 28-August 2, 2018

Review: A collection of scholarly essays dedicated to Carole Levin, the co-editor of the Palgrave Macmillan Queenship and Power book series. I am honoured that my own book is mentioned in Charles Beem’s essay concerning the development of the series, which states, “…Carolyn Harris’s Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette, a provocative comparative study of two queens who suffered miserably at the hands of revolutionary ideologies.” The chapters are divided by theme, presenting a broad range of perspectives on early modern queenship, especially the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. I found the chapters about Elizabeth I’s role as a godparent (she had at least 114 godchildren over the course of her reign including John Harington, inventor of the flush toilet), and the comparisons between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots especially fascinating. An interesting and informative read.

#208 of 365 Catherine the Great: Art for Empire: Masterpieces from the State Hermitage Museum, Russia

Genre: Art History

Date Read: July 30, 2018

Acquired: Received as a Gift

Format: Paperback, 328 pages

Review: The book that accompanied the 2005 Catherine the Great exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. A nice balance between beautiful illustrations of works of art collected and commissioned by Catherine the Great, and insightful essays about the different facets of her role as patron of arts. The art historians focus on the variety of different art forms in Catherine’s collection including paintings, sculpture and cameos, her motives for amassing such an extensive art collection, and the question of whether she possessed good taste or was simply a “glutton for art” who bought large collections without considering the merits of the individual works. The essays concerning her patronage of women artists including Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun and Marie-Anne Collot are especially interesting. I would have been interested to read a concluding essay about the expansion of the Hermitage museum’s collection after Catherine the Great’s reign.

#209 of 365 The Royal Wedding Dresses by Nigel Arch and Joanna Marschner 

Genre: History and Fashion

Date Read: August 2, 2018

Acquired: Read at Toronto Reference Library

Genre: Hardcover, 176 pages

Review: A beautifully illustrated history of royal wedding fashion from Henry VII and Elizabeth of York to Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. Although the title suggests that the book examines wedding dresses alone, the authors also look at the fashions worn by royal bridegrooms, bridesmaids and guests. There are some fascinating examples of royal brides adapting traditional bridal fashions to reflect their own preferences including Queen Marie of Romania choosing a tulle veil instead of the wedding lace favoured by most of Queen Victoria’s descendants, and her cousin Princess Margaret of Connaught choosing an Irish made gown embroidered with shamrocks to reflect her happy memories of spending time in Ireland as a child. I would be interested to read an updated edition that includes the last few decades of royal wedding fashion.

#210 of 365 Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution by Will Bashor

Genre: History

Date Read: August 7, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Format: Hardcover, 299 pages

Review: An excellent read, especially in tandem with Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the French Revolution by Caroline Weber. Bashor examines the life and hair-raising exploits of Leonard Autie, who rose from obscure origins in Gascony to become Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser and confidant. Both the hairdresser and Marie Antoinette’s milliner, Rose Bertin, became recognizable public figures in their own right and were nicknamed Ministers of Fashion, setting precedents for future celebrity stylists and fashion designers.

I especially enjoyed the chapters about the Flight to Varennes, where Leonard acted as a secret messenger for the King and Queen, and his brother may have unwittingly foiled the royal family’s plan to flee France. Leonard had a long career after the French Revolution, styling the hair of the Russian Imperial family, including the murdered Czar Paul I for his state funeral. Marie Antoinette’s Head is lavishly illustrated with images from the French archives of Marie Antoinette, her family and her famous hairstyles. Highly recommended.

Books I’ve Read This Week: Kings and Queens

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 20: Kings and Queens: These past few weeks, I have been reading a combination of biographies of King and Queens (reviewed in this post), Russian History and Literature (to be reviewed in the next post) and some fun novels (to be reviewed later next week). I am continuing to read the biographies in the Penguin Monarchs series (Henry II, Richard I and Elizabeth I) in addition to recent books about English/British queens consort Catherine Howard and Caroline of Ansbach, the French King Francis I, and the Spanish queen, Juana I. There is a strong focus on the sixteenth century in these reading choices but also two medieval kings and a Georgian queen! Here are this week’s reviews:

#135 of 365 The First Iron Lady: A Life of Caroline of Ansbach by Matthew Dennison

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 400 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: June 5-7, 2018

Review:  I enjoyed reading more about Caroline of Ansbach, a British queen who deserves to be better known. Caroline was central to the House of Hanover’s public image in Britain as her husband George II and father-in-law, George I had little charisma or rapport with the British public. Caroline trained carefully for her future role while still a princess in Hanover, reading British history during her husband’s naps (the future George II was bored by reading or the sight of other people reading), requesting tea and taking English conversation lessons. Dennison incorporates attitudes toward the queen in the popular culture of the period, which was fascinated by Caroline’s strong Protestant faith, large family and her perceived political influence. An interesting and engaging read.

#136 of 365 Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII by Gareth Russell

Genre: Royal History

Dates Listened: June 1-3, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 15 hours and 57 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review:  An insightful and well written biography of Catherine Howard, the 5th wife of King Henry VIII. Most biographies of Catherine present her as a fool or a passive victim but Russell provides a nuanced portrait, explaining both her strengths as queen, including her mastery of court etiquette and courtesy toward others, and the reasons for her perceived weaknesses including her continued engagement with figures from her past who had the power to undermine her reputation. Russell is an expert on Catherine Howard’s household provides a vivid depiction of the Tudor court and a critical analysis of Henry VIII.

The only section that I did not find entirely convincing was Russell’s account of Catherine’s childhood, which Russell describes as happy. He presents Catherine as a social leader within her step-grandmother’s household. Instead, Catherine seems to have been in a vulnerable position in spite of her rank because her mother was dead and her father was fleeing his creditors in Calais. Her situation, in the household of an inattentive guardian, attracted the attention of the arrogant, aggressive men whom she encountered in her adolescence.

The concluding chapters are tragic as Catherine’s past and present conduct comes under scrutiny and she meets the fate of her cousin, Henry VIII’s 2nd wife Anne Boleyn. Russell describes these events in thoughtful detail and reveals how her execution was perceived at the time. The book is well worth reading as a study of the role of the queen consort, religion and politics during the later years of Henry VIII’s reign.

#137 of 365 Richard I: The Crusader King by Thomas Asbridge

Genre: Royal History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 128 pages

Date Read: June 4, 2018

Review: A balanced short biography of a famous medieval king. Asbridge does not ignore Richard the Lionheart’s flaws as a king including his quest for personal glory at the expense of other objectives but he convincingly challenges the idea that Richard was uninterested in his role as King of England. Richard ruled a vast Anglo-French empire but England was the jewel in his crown and he introduced new aspects of English kingship including “the royal we” and the custom of dating reigns by regnal year. Asbridge argues that Richard would have a very different reputation if he had been able to return to England immediately after the Third Crusade instead of being taken captive and held for ransom.

I would have liked the book to have included a little more about the king’s personal life. His queen, Berengeria of Navarre is only mentioned in passing even though she accompanied him on the 3rd Crusade and there is little sense of his social circle or his interests beyond literature and waging war. In all other respects, Richard I: The Crusader King, is an excellent contribution to the Penguin Monarchs series.

#138 of 365 Henry II: Prince Among Princes by Richard Barber

Genre: Royal History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 128 pages

Date Read: June 5, 2018

Review: A short biography of Henry II that emphasizes his achievements in holding together the Angevin Empire and initiating legal reforms that would shape the development of English common law. Barber makes clear that Henry was more than Eleanor of Aquitaine’s husband and Thomas Becket’s adversary though there is extensive analysis of church and family conflict throughout the book. Barber divides the book into three sections – Henry’s appearance and character, his life story and his achievements – and the final section should have been expanded to highlight the specific legal developments discussed in the text. Barber achieves a good balance between the personal and the political and readers will come from the book with a good sense of Henry’s character and kingship.

#139 of 365 Francis I: The Maker of Modern France by Leonie Frieda

Genre: Royal History

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 13 hours and 9 minutes

Dates Listened: June 9-11, 2018

Review: An old fashioned royal biography that recounts various aspects of Francis’s life and reign, especially his foreign policy, without much additional analysis from the author. Frieda describes wars, peace treaties, dynastic marriages and contacts between rulers but rarely brings these details together to assess Francis’s overall strategy toward kingship. The book is filled with historical figures who are more interesting than Francis himself including his mother, Louise of Savoy, sister, Marguerite of Navarre and artist in residence, Leonardo de Vinci. Frieda argues that Francis is more worthy of the description “Renaissance Prince” than his contemporary King Henry VIII of England and the book provides a sense of Henry VIII’s dealings with the France from the French perspective. A worthwhile read that would have benefited from more analysis of Francis and his policies.

#140 of 365 Juana I: Legitimacy and Conflict in Sixteenth-Century Castile by Gillian B. Fleming

Genre: Royal History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: E-Book, 365 pages

Date Read: June 12, 2018

Review: An excellent scholarly biography of Queen Juana I, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. Juana has gone down in history as Juana la Loca and most biographies and cultural representations of the Queen focus on her mental health instead of her sovereignty. In contrast, Fleming examines Juana’s political significance as Queen of Castile and places her within the context of sixteenth century attitudes toward female rule in the Iberian peninsula and beyond. I found the background concerning Ferdinand’s family particularly interesting as one of his half sisters had been imprisoned by his father because her determination to exercise her rights over her mother’s inheritance threatened his rule. A similar pattern unfolded in Ferdinand’s treatment of Juana. Well written, well researched and interesting to read. Highly recommended.

#141 of 365 Elizabeth I: A Study in Insecurity by Helen Castor

Genre: Royal History

Date Read: June 15, 2018

Format: Hardcover, 128 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Review: A wonderful short biography of Queen Elizabeth I. Dr. Helen Castor looks behind the Queen’s confident public image as Gloriana and examines her precarious position over the the course of her reign. The fates of Henry VIII’s six wives are so well known today that the probable impact of these events on Elizabeth I’s sense of her own position and her attitudes toward marriage are sometimes overlooked. Elizabeth experienced a treacherous path to the throne and a series of threats to her authority over the course of her reign. I thought the author’s comparison of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots was especially illuminating. The book is filled with interesting facts, such as how Queen Elizabeth I’s accession is the only time in English history when heralds cried, “The queen is dead, long live the queen.” Highly recommended.

CBC News Interview: St. George’s Chapel: Gothic glory surrounds memorials to monarchs – but their marriages didn’t always work out

King Henry VIII

I discussed St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry next month, with Janet Davison for The Royal Fascinator, the CBC royal wedding newsletter.

Windsor Castle was built during the reign of William the Conqueror and has been a royal residence since the reign of William’s youngest son Henry I, who married his second wife, Adeliza of Louvain, there. Beginning in the reign of Edward III in the fourteenth century, the castle became associated with Order of the Garter ceremonies rather than royal wedding celebrations until the reign of Queen Victoria in the nineteenth century. Six of Queen Victoria’s nine children were married in St. George’s Chapel and the chapel remains a popular royal wedding venue for junior members of the royal family.

Like Westminster Abbey in London, St. George’s Chapel is the setting royal funerals as well as royal weddings. When Meghan Markle walks down the aisle, she will pass over the modest memorial plaque to King Henry VIII who is buried in the chapel. Henry VIII married six times but he chose to be interred with his third wife, Jane Seymour, who died giving birth to his only legitimate son, King Edward VI.

Click here to read “St. George’s Chapel: Gothic glory surrounds memorials to monarchs – but their marriages didn’t always work out.”

Click here for further information about the history of Windsor Castle, including the 1992 fire, which led to extensive renovations.

 

Books I’ve Read This Week: The Tudors

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 10: The Tudors This week, (or should I say 10 days as I am a few books behind schedule in efforts to read a book a day in 2018) there was a clear theme to my reading: England’s Tudor Dynasty. I read short biographies of King Henry VIII and two of his children, King Edward VI and Queen Mary I as well as a scholarly study of early Tudor queenship, historical novels about Henry VIII’s first two wives, and a book about how Tudor England established diplomatic and trade relations with the court of Czar Ivan the Terrible in Russia.  Here are this week’s reviews:

#64 of 365 Henry VIII: The Quest for Fame by John Guy

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 160 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: March 6, 2018

Review: A balanced introduction to King Henry VIII’s reign that includes both Henry’s strengths and his “deadly impatience.” Guy incorporates the latest research concerning Henry and his reign including medical analysis of his ulcerated leg and difficulty fathering surviving children. The book provides an especially detailed discussion of Henry’s public image and the contrast between Henry’s “delusions of grandeur” and his comparatively marginal significance in continental European politics. I disagree, however, with Guy’s conclusion that Henry was “the most remarkable ruler ever to sit on the English throne.” I would give that distinction to his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.

 #65 of 365 Elizabeth of York and Her Six Daughters-in-Law: Fashioning Tudor Queenship (1485-1547) by Retha Warnicke

Genre: Royal History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 291 pages

Date Read: March 7, 2018

Review: An excellent study of change and continuity in Tudor queenship during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Renowned Tudor scholar Retha Warnicke emphasizes the importance of Elizabeth of York’s role as queen during the reign of Henry VII, challenging the idea that the queen was completely overshadowed by her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort. Since Elizabeth of York died before her son Henry VIII became King and married six successive wives, she is rarely compared to her daughters-in-law even though her experiences as queen set precedents for subsequent Tudor queens. The book is arranged thematically, examining coronations, incomes, households, family life, religious activities, patronage, court entertainments and burials.

There are a few points where I disagree with Warnicke’s interpretations of source material. For example, she describes Mary Boleyn as Anne Boleyn’s younger sister while I agree with evidence cited by other historians indicating that Mary was the elder of the two Boleyn sisters. Overall, I found the book extremely informative and fascinating to read, combining the experiences of Tudor queens consort with the life cycle of elite women of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

#66 of 365 Edward VI: The Last Boy King by Stephen Alford

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 90 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: March 7, 2018

Review: This short biography of King Edward VI provides a good overview of the child king’s portraits, writings, interests, social circle and education but there are key themes from his reign that receive comparatively little attention. Aside from a final chapter about Edward VI’s changes to the line of succession to favour his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, there is little analysis of the lasting impact of Edward’s strong Protestant beliefs and policies. His interactions with his sisters, the future Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I, also received comparatively little attention. The Further Reading sections provides some useful suggestions that address these themes in the King’s reign.

#67 of 365 Mary I: The Daughter of Time by John Edwards

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 112 pages

Acquired: Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Dates Read: March 8-9, 2018

Review: An excellent introduction to the reign of Queen Mary I. For centuries, Mary has been dismissed as a “Bloody Mary” and compared unfavourably to her half sister and successor Elizabeth I. Recent scholarship has emphasized her achievement as England’s first uncontested female ruler. In common with his longer biography of Mary “England’s Catholic Queen” for Yale University Press, Edwards, an expert in Spanish history, carefully analyzes Mary’s Catholicism, Spanish influences (including her mother Catherine of Aragon and husband Philip II) and her place in continental European politics. The focus of this short biography is Mary’s education and reign and there is little attention paid to her personality beyond the traumatic impact of the breakdown of the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. 

#68 of 365 Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 22 hours and 32 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Listened: March 6-March 10, 2018

Review: A richly detailed historical novel about King Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, filled with sumptuous gowns, banquets and jewels. The novel begins with Katherine’s arrival in England to marry Henry’s elder brother Arthur and Weir shows the cultural differences between the English and Spanish royal courts. Weir also captures the atmosphere of Tudor England, especially the court entertainments and tournaments presided over by Henry VIII. While most novels about Katherine of Aragon focus almost exclusively on the breakdown of her marriage, Weir shows Catherine’s full range of interests such as her patronage of scholars and her wide social circle including Maud Parr (mother of Catherine’s goddaughter and Henry VIII’s future 6th wife, Catherine Parr), Margaret, Countess of Salisbury and Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby. The prose is sometimes repetitive as the reader learns again and again that Catherine dislikes Cardinal Wolsey and favours an alliance with her nephew, Emperor Charles V, and key characters sometimes come and go with little explanation but overall, the novel is engaging. The audiobook is well read by Rosalyn Landor although the narrator sometimes overemphasizes the Spanish accents of Catherine and her ladies.

#69 of 365 Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 19 hours and 45 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Listened: March 10-12, 2018

Review: A detailed historical novel about the life of Anne Boleyn from childhood to execution. I especially enjoyed the early chapters where Anne serves a series of European royal women and is mentored by these powerful figures including Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands and Marguerite of Navarre. Henry VIII does not begin to pursue Anne until around a quarter of the way through the novel, allowing Anne’s personality as an independent, educated, confident and stylish young woman to be established before she becomes the central figure in “The King’s Great Matter.” The novel also shows the power imbalances between European monarchs such as Henry VIII or Francois I and the young maids-of-honour whom they pursued at their courts.

Once Henry begins to seek a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, however, the narrative slows down and the courtship and quarrels between Henry and Anne become repetitive. First, they argue numerous times about Cardinal Wolsey, then they argue about Catherine of Aragon and her daughter, Mary. In Weir’s previous novel about Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII has a variety of interests and political objectives but the king is almost entirely focused on Anne in this novel and therefore seems more one dimensional. The wit, charm and personal magnetism that Anne must have possessed to receive a promise of marriage from the King is also curiously absent from much of the novel. Once Henry and Anne’s marriage begins to break down, the narrative becomes more dramatic and builds to a tragic conclusion.

#70 of 365 Tudor Adventurers by James Evans

Genre: History

Date Read: March 14, 2018

Format: Hardcover, 383 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Indigo Books

Review:  An interesting account of how Tudor England established diplomatic and trade relations with Ivan the Terrible’s Russia. The impressions of the English explorers, traveling by sledge to Moscow and being invited to lavish banquets at the Kremlin were fascinating. I was also interested to read about the founding of the Muscovy Company under the reign of Queen Mary I. I would have preferred that the book follow these developments more closely as there are often digressions about English politics during the expedition to Russia and the history of navigation and seafaring that could be streamlined to focus more closely on the voyage itself. I agree with the author that the search for the northeast passage should be better known as it had a lasting impact on England’s economy.

My January-February 2018 course at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies: Family Life from Medieval to Modern Times

On Wednesday afternoons in January and February 2018, I will be teaching an eight week history course about Family Life from Medieval to Modern Times.

Click here for more information and to register.

Course Description:

Our views on marriage and childrearing would seem very strange to families of past centuries. We’ll see the influence of romanticism on the current understanding of family life, the changing role of grandparents in relation to family traditions, and the emergence of a distinct children’s culture including the birth of children’s literature, due in part to the expansion of formal education. Join us for a look at marriage and parenting customs and advice through the centuries, and the surprising influence of history on family life today.
Learning Outcomes:

Tudor Book Reviews: The King’s Pearl by Melita Thomas and So High a Blood by Morgan Ring

The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary by Melita Thomas

The childhood of Queen Mary I has long been viewed through the perspective of her adolescence and adulthood. As Melita Thomas, observes, Mary was known for centuries as “Bloody Mary” because of the executions of Protestants during her short reign and has recently been rediscovered as “Tragic Mary” because of the devastating impact of the divorce of her parents, King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on her life. As a result, Mary is viewed as her mother’s daughter and the dynastic marriage negotiations of her childhood are often treated as doomed to failure from the beginning.

In The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary, Thomas re-evaluates the relationship between Henry VIII and Mary I, emphasizing Mary’s political and personal significance to her father. The dynastic marriage negotiations of Mary’s childhood are taken seriously as Henry attempted to increase his prominence in European politics by securing prestigious marriage for Mary. Henry’s relations with Catherine’s nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, are particularly well analyzed by Thomas as the prospect of having a grandson who would rule most of Europe seemed to reconcile Henry to the prospect of a female heir.

Thomas makes clear that popular opinion within England and the rest of Europe deemed Mary to be Henry’s heir until the birth of a younger brother, despite the efforts of Henry and Anne Boleyn to assert their daughter’s Elizabeth’s seniority in the succession through the Act of Supremacy. After Anne’s execution, there were doubts concerning whether Henry would have subsequent children with his third wife, Jane Seymour. Mary therefore remained politically significant event after she had been declared illegitimate.

Thomas devotes less attention to the personal bond between Henry and Mary beyond their shared love of music, gardens and courtly display as well as willingness to take risks to achieve their political ambitions but this imbalance reflects the available source material. There is more evidence of Mary’s personal relations with her successive stepmothers from her antipathy toward Anne Boleyn to her warm friendship with Katherine Parr. Mary’s determination to be an active rather than passive participant in Tudor politics is evident throughout the book. The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary is an interesting and well researched counterpoint to prevailing image of Mary I as a “Bloody” or “Tragic” figure. Like her half-siblings, Elizabeth I and Edward VI, she was a child of Henry VIII and his influence had a lifelong impact on her politics and personality.

So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot by Morgan Ring

One of Queen Mary I’s closest friends was her Scottish cousin Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of King Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor and her second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret Douglas was a prominent figure at the Tudor court during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Through her grandson, King James VI of Scotland/James I of England, she is an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II. Despite her importance during the sixteenth century and the dramatic circumstances of her life – she was imprisoned in the Tower of London on more than one occasion – Margaret Douglas is little known today. Her long residence at the Tudor court resulted in her being marginalized in histories of sixteenth century Scotland while her Scottish ancestry meant that she received little attention in histories of England during the same period.

In So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot, Morgan Ring presents Margaret Douglas a strong and adaptable personality, a key figure in the religious and political upheaval of Elizabeth I’s reign and a consummate survivor. Margaret enjoyed the rare ability of reconciling with Henry VIII after incurring his displeasure on more than one occasion because of her romances with members of the Howard family. The exclusion of the Scottish line from Henry VIII’s will, however, suggests that they were in conflict at the time of his death and Ring provides a convincing analysis of these circumstances in her book.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Margaret, a devout Roman Catholic who had enjoyed a close friendship with Mary I, opposed the Queen’s Protestant religious settlement. Margaret also favoured the marriage of her elder son, Lord Darnley, to Mary, Queen of Scots in opposition to Queen Elizabeth I’s wishes. After Darnley’s death, Margaret blamed Mary, Queen of Scots and enjoyed an improved relationship with Elizabeth that lasted until Margaret’s younger son married without the Queen’s permission. As the mother of two sons who survived to adulthood (a circumstance that was rare among the Tudors) and then as the grandmother of the King of Scotland, Margaret was an important political figure throughout Elizabeth I’s reign. Ring restores a little known member of the Tudor dynasty to her rightful place in sixteenth century history.

My October-November 2017 course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies: Women In Power

“Boadicea Haranguing the Britons” by John Opie

In the Fall of 2017, I will be teaching an eight week course about the history of Women in Power at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. Click here for more information and to register:

Time and Date:

03 Oct 2017 – 21 Nov 2017 
Tuesdays 
7:00PM – 9:00PM

Course Description:

Powerful women have presented themselves as warrior queens, rulers by divine right, wives and mothers and, most recently, as elected officials. We’ll examine the most significant female political figures in history, including Boadicea, Queen Isabella, Queen Elizabeth I, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton. Through lively lectures and discussions, you’ll learn the story of women in political life. Why are women still underrepresented in political life? Join Carolyn Harris for a fascinating look at the often-neglected place of women in power from Cleopatra to Angela Merkel.

Learning Outcomes:

 

National Post review of Raising Royalty: “Murder your children’s rivals, and other parenting tips from royals”

19th century portrait of Peter the Great interrogating his son, Alexei

My new book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, is featured in the weekend National Post including quotes from the chapters about Peter the Great, Queen Victoria and Henry VIII.

“[The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge] want Princess Charlotte and Prince George to go to the local school. They want to be hands-on parents. On the day George left the hospital, William wrestled with the lad’s car seat, a performance reenacted daily by new dads the world over. The message they hoped you’d glean from it? Will and Kate are just like you and me.

In her new book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, Canadian historian Carolyn Harris reveals there may be other parenting tips to be gleaned from royal watching. With Harris as inspiration, we offer six tips from moms and dads who also happened to be monarchs.”

Click here to read “Murder your children’s rivals, and other parenting tips from royals” in the National Post

Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting now available for purchase

My 3rd book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, has been published by Dundurn Press in Canada. (The USA and UK release date is May 2).

Click here to purchase your copy of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

How royal parents dealt with raising their children over the past thousand years, from keeping Vikings at bay to fending off paparazzi.

William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are setting trends for millions of parents around the world. The upbringing of their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, is the focus of intense popular scrutiny. Royalty have always raised their children in the public eye and attracted praise or criticism according to parenting standards of their day.

Royal parents have faced unique challenges and held unique privileges. In medieval times, raising an heir often meant raising a rival, and monarchs sometimes faced their grown children on the battlefield. Conversely, kings and queens who lost their thrones in wars or popular revolutions often found solace in time spent with their children. In modern times, royal duties and overseas tours have often separated young princes and princesses from their parents, a circumstance that is slowly changing with the current generation of royalty.

Click here to purchase your copy of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

The Table of Contents for Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

The Table of Contents of my forthcoming book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting is now available online:

Table of Contents

Introduction  Raising a Royal Child

1     Edgar “the Peaceable” (c. 943-75) and Elfrida of Northampton (c. 945-1001)
2     William “the Conqueror” (c. 1028-87) and Matilda of Flanders (c. 1031-83)

Genealogical chart depicting King Henry II of England and his children

3     Henry II (1133-89) and Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1124-1204)
4     Henry III (1207-72) and Eleanor of Provence (c. 1223-91)
5     Edward III (1312-77) and Philippa of Hainault (1314-69)
6     Richard III (1452-85) and Anne Neville (1456-85)

Charles I, Henrietta Maria and their two eldest children

7     Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516) and Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504)
8     Henry VIII (1491-1547) and Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536)
9     Frederick V, Elector Palatine (1596-1632) and Elizabeth of England and Scotland (1596-1662)
10    Charles I (1600-49) and Henrietta Maria of France (1609-69)
11    Peter I “the Great” of Russia (1672-1725) and Catherine I (1684-1727)
12    Anne (1665-1714) and George of Denmark (1653-1708)
13    George II (1683-1760) and Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737)

Nicholas and Alexandra present their daughter, Olga to Queen Victoria

14    Louis XVI of France (1754-93) and Marie Antoinette of Austria (1755-93)
15    Victoria (1819-1901) and Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1819-61)
16    Nicholas II of Russia (1868-1918) and Alexandra of Hesse-Darmstadt (1872-1918)
17    Juliana of the Netherlands (1909-2004) and Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld (1911-2004)
18    Elizabeth II (1926-) and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark (1921-)
19    Prince Charles (1948-) and Lady Diana Spencer (1961-97)  20    Prince William (1982-) and Catherine Middleton (1982-)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte arrive in Canada

Epilogue    The Future of the Royal Nursery

Acknowledgements
Notes
Further Reading
Index

Click here to pre-order your copy of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting